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Journal of Caribbean Amerindian His ton- and Anthropology 

KACIKE: Journal of Caribbean Amerindian History and Anthropology ISSN 1562-5028 
Special Issue edited by Lynne Guitar 

Mitochrondial DNA in the Dominican Republic 

Dr. Fernando Luna Calderon 

A brief introduction by the editor : In the past, studies of the Tainos relied upon history, 
archaeology, and anthropology. Today, a new method of research is helping to shed 
light on ancient questions about them and their ancestors — genetics. The Human 
Genome Project, an international effort aimed at identifying and mapping the entire 
sequence of the more than 30,000 human genes and 3 billion chemical base pairs that 
make up human DNA, was completed ahead of its 2003 schedule. Today, scientists like 
Dr. Fernando Luna Calderon are using the new knowledge and methods learned from 
the Human Genome Project to trace human migrations, to identify human origins. 
Specifically, Luna Calderon proposes to clearly identify who the ancestors of the Tainos 
and other indigenous Caribbean peoples were, and their routes of migration and 
settlement. These are brand new studies, the results of which have not yet been 
realized. In this paper, Luna Calderon explains the biological base of the research and 
the methods he is using to obtain DNA samples and perform the required analyses on 

The physical-chemical bases of 

The method of selection of animal 
and vegetable lineages began back in the 
Neolithic with the aim of attaining more 
productive individuals. In a simple form, 
those agriculturalists and shepherds 
understood that characteristics were 
transmitted from generation to 
generation. This fact was affirmed by the 
monk Gregory Mendel, who, using 
worms, demonstrated that factors 
remained as mysterious entities, although 
he did not know their exact nature; thus 

they were transmitted from generation to 
generation. One hundred years later, 
those mysterious entities have been 
almost completely clarified and the theme 
of inheritance is perhaps one of the best 
known in biology. Since 1910 those 
"factors" have received the name of 

Chromosomes and genes 

Living beings are the product of 
repeated divisions of an egg and zygote, 
which differentiate themselves from the 

Dr. Fernando L. Calderdn - Mitochondrial DNA in the Dominican Rep. 

sister cells in order to realize multiple 
functions. The zygote is nothing more 
than an initial male and female cell. 
These cells are known in scientific jargon 
by the names ovum and spermatozoid. 
These gametes carry a gene for each 
given character; that is, each zygote 
possesses two genes. 

If you observe a cell's cycle, after it 
has split off from its progenitor cell, there 
is no change in the nucleus or in the 
cytoplasm. But at the moment of cell 
division, the nucleus disappears, and the 
material in its interior distributes itself into 
filament-like structures that coil up and 
can be seen if one uses special colors. 
These coils are called chromosomes, and 
their number is constant in each living 

The chromosomes are divided 
longitudinally, forming two long arms of 
steps called chromatics, united in their 
middle parts by a short "trunk." At the 
moment of division, the chromosomes 
emigrate toward the center of the cell. 
There they separate and form a new cell. 
From this a transverse partition is formed 
that gives birth to the two sister cells. The 
chromatics also distend themselves and 
form new muscles. The process of cell 
division involves a longitudinal division of 
the chromosomes to form chromatics that 
are distributed separately toward the 
sister cells. A little before the cell division, 
a chromatic appears with a new 
chromatic, constituting a new 

There is a relationship between 
genes and chromosomes. Thus each new 
gene possesses a homolog in each cell; 
the chromosome is identical in form and 
size to the cell's other chromosomes. In 
the same way, the homologous genes 
proceed from their opposites in every pair 
of identical chromosomes that proceed 
from the mother and father. It is not a 

random process. The chromosomes are 
the cellular structures in which genes are 
situated. The combination of human 
genes is constituted of dozens of 
thousands and they are found distributed 
in 46 chromosomatically duplicated 

The molecule of inheritance 

Phenotype and genotype are the 
products of biochemical reactions that 
take place in each living organism. These 
reactions, to make themselves faster, 
count on the presence of some molecules 
called enzymes, whose mission is to 
accelerate the organic processes, 
increasing their velocity. For the process, 
they use their geometric forms that permit 
them to adhere themselves easily to the 
molecules that intervene. 

The structures of the genes should 
be stable. That is, they are not easily 
susceptible to random changes. Their 
molecules ought to have the capacity of 
duplicating themselves with fidelity, in 
order that the information is transmitted 
without change generation after 
generation. The structures of the said 
molecules ought to be healthy, which 
guarantees that their information 
transmits itself in the simplest form 
possible in the zygotic structures capable 
of directly influencing the physiological 
process. Life appeared on earth some 
three million years ago and needed a 
molecule capable of perpetuating itself 
and reproducing itself. That molecule is 
DNA (Deoxyribonucleic acid). 

The structure of DNA 

DNA is a molecule made up of 
albumins, called nucleotides. The 

© 2002, Fernando Luna Calderdn 
KACIKE: The Journal of Caribbean Amerindian History and Anthropology 
ISSN 1562-5028 - 

Dr. Fernando L. Calderdn - Mitochondrial DNA in the Dominican Rep. 

nucleotide has various parts: Ortho- 
phosphate group, attached to a ring of 
deoxyribose, which has a nitrogenous 
base. The Ortho-phosphate group and 
the deoxyribose have a peculiar structure. 
That is, four distinct groups, a hexagonal 
ring united to a pentagonal ring, in which 
case it is called purine base (Adenine- 
Guanine) or better by one single 
hexagonal ring in which case it would be 
pyramidine base (Timine-Citosine). 

The nucleotides locate themselves 
one by one in two chains in the manner of 
the shell of a snail — a form that is called 
double helix. The steps of the staircase 
are made up of nitrogenous bases from 
both chains, with very weak electric 
charges, which are called hydrogen 

The nitrogenous bases allow only 
one thing to face Adenine, and normally 
that is Timine. Meanwhile only Citosine 
faces the Guanine. The base sequence of 
the chain has but one possible path. In 
effect, the stability of the molecule is 
important, and because of this the 
hydrogen connections come into being. In 
the duplication process of DNA, it 
produces an unpairing of the two chains 
for the synthesis of a new complementary 
chain. This breaking process creates an 
enzyme because such a separation 
would be difficult if the connections were 
covalent. This type of structure, as 
described, permits the duplication of the 
DNA molecule, which is produced 
through the simple separation process of 
the two chains, each one of which acts as 
a mold for the synthesis of the 
complementary chain. 

The DNA's information 

A gene is essentially a fragment of 
DNA with an average longitude of a 

thousand base pairs with the 
corresponding Ortho-phosphate and 
deoxyribose molecules. The enzymes are 
molecules of natural proteins formed by 
small entities called aminoacids. Twenty 
aminoacids are known that form in the 
normal protein path. The translator gene 
uses an alphabet of four that serve to 
write twenty (20) different words by which 
the twenty aminoacids are known. 

If the DNA upon duplication were 
perfect, all the molecules of DNA would 
be equal. The first should have 
synthesized itself randomly three million 
years ago. Evidently, that did not happen, 
proven by the diversity of living beings 
that populate the universe. In other 
words, the duplication of DNA information 
is incompatible with the evolution of living 
beings. Evolution has been possible 
thanks to errors and to the random 
duplication of DNA; this is what has 
produced genetic mutations. 

Translation of the information 

In the translation, the first problem 
is the DNA of the nucleus. While the 
synthesis of proteins is produced outside 
of it, in the cellular cytoplasm, the 
existence of a molecule capable of 
transporting the genetic message from 
the nucleus to the cytoplasm is 
necessary. This molecule is the 
messenger RNA — mRNA (Ribonucleic 
acid) — with a structure similar to that of 

The Vikings of the 11th century 
made contact with aboriginal groups from 
the American continent. They touched the 
eastern coast of Greenland and arrived at 
a territory called Vinland. There they 
established various settlements, leaving 
ample archaeological evidence. 

Christopher Columbus, seeking The 

© 2002, Fernando Luna Calderdn 
KACIKE: The Journal of Caribbean Amerindian History and Anthropology 
ISSN 1562-5028 - 

Dr. Fernando L. Calderdn - Mitochondrial DNA in the Dominican Rep. 

Indies of Spices and Gold, discovered the 
New World in 1492. Thus he made 
contact with a people with a marginal 
culture characterized by a variety of 
subsistence patterns: fishing, hunting, 
gathering, and intensive agriculture. In 
the 18 th century, the majority of 
intellectuals were convinced that the first 
Americans came from Northeastern Asia. 

The Count of Bufon, Luis Leclerc, 
recognized the seeming morphology 
between Amerindian and Asiatic groups. 
Also Blumenbach, in the same century, 
presented a classification of the human 
races in his book, Native Variability of 
Human Genetics. In the 1940s and 
1 950s, it was taught that the ancestors of 
the Amerindians were a product of the 
mixture of the two racial ingredients 
Caucasian and Mongoloid (Birdsell 1951). 

Genetics supports the evidence of 
these theories, the seeming morphology, 
the craneometric affinities, and the 
cultural similarities. In the genetic 
evidence we find various genetic and 
blood markers, which are: protein series 
and DNA haplotypes. Genetic trees were 
constructed based on 120 alleles of world 
populations. This permitted an exhaustive 
study of the genetic markers, like the 
Greek gene and the Gamma globuline 
halotype. In a morphologic similarity, 
Amerindians and Asiatics share: scarcity 
of hair (beardless), hair that is black and 
straight, the Mongolic birthmark, 
epicanthic fold, shovel teeth, and three- 
root molars. In the cranium there is a 
similarity by the tendency toward 
brachycephalization among the Indians 
that is similar to the Asiatics. 

Among the cultural similarities are 
the following: the exploitation of the 
environment with techniques adapted to 
concrete problems, the belief in spirits, 
the presence of shamans, the type of 
living quarters, the stick calendar, etc. 

The environment was exploited in similar 
ways by both groups. There is no doubt, 
apart from the mitochrondrial DNA 
studies, that Amerindian groups 
descended from Asiatic groups. 

Mitochrondrial DNA in the Taino 
groups of Hispaniola 

Since long ago, some researchers 
maintained the theory that these Arawak- 
language-based groups were extinct as a 
result of maltreatment, illnesses, suicides, 
and the rupture of their familiar unity. 
Nonetheless, studies done by 
archaeologists and genetic researchers 
on the present population indicate that 
these groups were decimated, but not 
annihilated. Toward that aim, we worked 
with materials that proceeded from the 
Aboriginal Cemetery of La Caleta, Santo 
Domingo, upon which we made bone 
cuttings in order to study their 
mitochrondrial DNA. 

In total, we analyzed twenty-seven 
(27) samples and had them examined at 
a laboratory in the Biology Department of 
the University of Barcelona, Spain, by 
doctors Bertrand Petite and Charles 
Lalueza Fox. The HVRI was amplified 
with the frequency results subjected to 
controls that permitted only two CID of 
the principal ancestral mitochrondrial 
DNA to appear in the work. 

Of this sample, 75% belong to 
haplogroup C and 25% to haplogroup D. 
This data is comparable to those 
encountered on the South American 
continent, and its sequence demonstrates 
a reduced diversity of mitochrondrial 

The Tainos are culturally marginal 
groups that made contact with European 
groups under the command of 
Christopher Columbus in 1492. That 

© 2002, Fernando Luna Calderdn 
KACIKE: The Journal of Caribbean Amerindian History and Anthropology 
ISSN 1562-5028 - 

Dr. Fernando L. Calderdn - Mitochondrial DNA in the Dominican Rep. 

Columbian expedition had the support of 
the Catholic Kings Ferdinand and Isabella 
and its mission continued the project of 
Mina that was begun on the coasts of 

It is very possible that, upon the 
arrival of Columbus in the New World, 
there existed about 300,000 aborigines. 
Nonetheless, in 1525, the majority of that 
population was dead, a result of 
maltreatment, illnesses, famines, etc., 
which has been called "ecocide." Around 
1502, the first slaves were brought in to 
help the aboriginal laborers who were 
almost annihilated. 

On the other hand, it seems that 
the Carib Indians of the Lesser Antilles 
disappeared as a different human group. 
Some 16 sequences were found that 
were clearly of African origin. We need 
new studies to seek genetic affinities of 
these groups in relation to the other 
persons in the Americas. 

The chronicles talk about two 
aboriginal groups: Tainos and Caribs. 
The Tainos inhabited the Greater Antilles 
and the Caribs the Lesser Antilles. The 
Tainos were organized into cacicazgos 
and had an economy of subsistence 
based on fishing, hunting, and gathering. 
They developed a high level of 
ceremonialism directed by a behique 
(shaman) or cacique, who, by means of a 
ritual called the cohoba ritual, put 
themselves in contact with their gods, 
announcing good harvest, wars, or 

These agricultural societies 
practiced a type of dance called areito, by 
means of which, through song and 
dance," they transmitted their culture from 
generation to generation. There were 
areitos for war, agricultural, marriage, 
death, dirges, etc. 

The predecessor groups, 

according to archaeological studies, 

proceded torn Trinidad-Tobago (Banwari 
Trace) and Belize in Central America. 
The archaeological excavations done by 
the teams from the Museum of Dominican 
Man and in other areas of the Caribbean 
indicate that the Tainos moved into the 
islands beginning about 5,000 b.c. from 
the lower part of the Orinoco River Valley, 
while groups from Trinidad and Central 
America migrated around a.d. 1,000. In 
Cuba, these groups received the name of 
Guanahatabeyes and are characterized 
for being fishers, hunters, and gatherers. 

According to these studies, it 
seems that the Antillean population is 
lineal from the southeast toward the 
northeast, following the configuration of 
the chain of the Antillean islands. It is 
important to know if the Caribs came from 
South America or not; this is something 
that lends itself to verification by the 
scientists who study mitochrondrial DNA. 
Mitochrondrial DNA is being used 
extensively for the construction of history 
about all the populations of the past and 
present. This is done with great 
determination under analysis and 
restrictions that consist of verifying the 
genetic differences. 

At Berkeley, a group of scientists, 
among whom Wes Brown and Mark 
Stoneking are prominent, have applied 
this technique to samples of present 
existing humans who come fom various 
parts of the world. Mitochrondrial DNA is 
inherited through the maternal line. This 
material is taken from the mitochrondria, 
a cellular organ that converts the nutritive 
substance into energy that is utilizable by 
the cell. 

Different from nuclear DNA, which 
forms a chain of long fibers, some of 
which are a double helix covered with 
proteins, the mitochrondrial DNA presents 
itself in small rings grouped in filaments. 
While the nuclear DNA is enclosed and 

© 2002, Fernando Luna Calderdn 
KACIKE: The Journal of Caribbean Amerindian History and Anthropology 
ISSN 1562-5028 - 

Dr. Fernando L. Calderdn - Mitochondrial DNA in the Dominican Rep. 

has some 100,000 genes with all the 
information necessary to produce a living 
human, mitochrondrial DNA contains only 
37. In America, many studies of the 
mitochrondrial DNA of Amerindians show 
that it corresponds to four lineages called 
A, B. C, and D, and a residual lineage 
called X by Bandelt in 1995. This 
ancestral lineage is found in some 
European populations. 

Greenbelg postulated in 1986 that 
there were three Amerindian migrations: 
Nadene and Eskimo-Aleut from Asia, 
crossing the Bering Strait, populated the 
Americas. The first sequence was made 
in 1991 and showed a high quantity of 
mitochrondrial DNA in a simple tribe, 
subjecting it to a scenario much more 
complex than that hoped for since the 
model of the three migrations. 

Our proposal in this study is to use 
the mitochrondrial DNA left in the bones 
by the Tainos of Hispaniola and from 
other islands in order to seek the genetic 
affinities of these groups in relation to the 
present Amerindians, and thus to 
reconstruct the origins of the groups that 
live in the Caribbean. We intend to 
analyze the genetic composition in order 
to give a clear image of all that is relative 
to this migration. 

The materials and the method for 
this study consist in the extraction and 
amplification of the 27 bone cuttings 
taken from the Cemetery of La Caleta in 

Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic. 
This cemetery, located on the southern 
coast of the country, contains burials in 
fetal position accompanied by Boca 
Chican ceramics, and its dating runs from 
about 670 through 1680, give or take 100 
years. All of these dates are before the 
arrival of Columbus. 

Strict methods are taken so that 
the samples are not contaminated with a 
positive air pressure in the principal 
laboratory. Sterile gloves, small filters, 
and frequent bleaches were some of the 
methods adopted during the process. The 
external surface of the bones was 
cleaned with a sterile razor and part of 
the scrapings were made into powder in a 
coffee grinder. The material was 
incubated half a night at 37 degrees 
centigrade with 8.5 ml. of water, 1 ml. 5% 
SDS, 0.5 ml. 1 m tris/HCL PH 8.0, and 50 
uL of 1 mg/ml with Protinase K, obtaining 
it three times. 

In order to ascertain the correct 
environment for the attribution of the first 
four lineages of Amerindian 

mitochrondrial DNA, small fragments from 
each lineage were taken. They were 
amplified in frequencies previously 
identified for haplogroup A, B, C, and D. 
All were cloned and sequenced. New 
research could show in a clear and 
precise way the manner in which Asiatic 
and Amerindian groups migrated 
thousands of years ago. 

© 2002, Fernando Luna Calderdn 
KACIKE: The Journal of Caribbean Amerindian History and Anthropology 
ISSN 1562-5028 - 

Dr. Fernando L. Calderdn - Mitochondrial DNA in the Dominican Rep. 


Dr. Fernando Luna Calderon, Dominican, is 
a human biologist and paleontologist who 
perfected his skills at the Smithsonian 
Institution in Washington, D.C. He studied 
medicine for five years at the Universidad 
Autonoma de Santo Domingo and also studied 
clinical psychology at the Universidad Mundial 
Dominicana and CDEP. He was director of 
the Physical Anthropology Department of the 
Museum of Dominican Man from 1973 until 
2000. At the same institution, he was 
subdirector in 1983-86 and 1996-2000, 
occupying the position of director from May 
through August of 2000. Since 2000, he has 
been director of the Museum of Natural 
Science. Luna Calderon has conducted 
hundreds of archaeological excavations 
across national territory. Furthermore, he has 
excavated very important aboriginal 
cemeteries in Puerto Rico, Martinique, 
Venezuela, Ecuador, and Cuba. He has 
published the Atlas of Bone Pathology and 
many other books in collaboration with 
important figures of Dominican, Venezuelan, 
Italian, and Spanish archaeology, as well as 
scientific articles in national and foreign 

Please cite this article as follows: 

Luna Calderon, Fernando (2002). 
Mitochondrial DNA in the Dominican 
Republic. KACIKE: The Journal of 
Caribbean Amerindian History and 
Anthropology [On-line Journal], Special 
Issue, Lynne Guitar, Ed. Available at: 
[Date of access: Day, Month, Year]. 

© 2002, Fernando Luna Calderon 
KACIKE: The Journal of Caribbean Amerindian History and Anthropology 
ISSN 1562-5028 -